China My Time in
2011-2012 Act 3
Chinese New Year | Xiâ€™an | Terracotta Warriors | Hong Kong | Macau | Shanghai | Hongcun | Huangshan | Lord Bao
Fireworks in Their Natural Environment 3 February 2012
Where I come from fireworks are very special things. They are like a rare, exotic animal that we only see on occasion and when we do it’s a big deal, and we’re all super excited. However, since I’ve been in Hefei I’ve encountered these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat where they aren’t in the slightest bit endangered. On the contrary, they are over-populated and more of pests than special spectacles. For the last five months I’ve known that I’m in China each day because I hear fireworks at some point. Sometimes it’s at 7 a.m. other times right in the middle of a class I’m teaching or maybe at night while I’m trying to fall asleep. In fact, as I wrote that sentence another went off. This isn’t just the case with Hefei, I’ve heard these noisy beasts in just about every Chinese city I’ve been in at random times including Macau but not Hong Kong. (Is that really China though?) I’ve learned as I’ve been here that fireworks are used to celebrate everything even the most minute accomplishment or commemoration like finishing a certain point on a construction project. That means that throughout a high-rise apartment complex’s construction process there will most likely be multiple sets of detonations of fireworks to recognize various goals such as ground-breakings, finishing x number of floors or each building, finishing the project, opening the complex and then each little store opening on the main level. Fireworks are, of course, used to celebrate other events such as weddings, holidays and funerals. For all of these reasons, the explosives go off not just in the evening but at all times of the day, very much in contrast to the land of my nativity where fireworks are usually set off only when its dark so that they can be seen as well as heard, and we only set them off once or twice a year. Even with all of these extemporaneous uses of fireworks, they are still held in high regard for the biggest holiday of the year. I would say the Spring Festival or lunar New Year is like the mating season of fireworks, if we continue with the animal metaphor. It is when they are most active and leaving their marks all over the place. It’s hard to walk down a sidewalk without passing over some red paper droppings from the pests. During the build up to the holiday and throughout, fireworks were being set off everywhere, the culmination being New Year’s Eve, 22 Jan 2012. That day it wasn’t just a few here or there but for most of the day you couldn’t go without hearing the blasts or echoes off buildings. However, the night was something to behold. For about an hour straight right around the change of the lunar year, people were setting off fireworks of all kinds from little crackers to big aerials. Someone once told me that they tried to ban fireworks in the city but there were too many complaints and rule-breakers that they again allowed them. China is the natural environment of fireworks, and they like to remind me, even if sometimes it feels like I’m in a war zone. Best part about it is that I’ll get back to the States on the third or Fourth of July and wont realize I’m back if I’m counting on not hearing fireworks.
My Chinese New Year 3 February 2012
In addition to hearing and seeing lots of fireworks, I celebrated the Lunar New Year in a few more ways. First, a little background, the Spring Festival is the official name of the biggest holiday in Asia. It is like taking Christmas, Independence Day and Thanksgiving and rolling them all into one, for you Americans out there. It is also the time of the biggest migration in the world because it is the goal of almost all 1.3 billion+ Chinese people to get home for the holiday. For this reason, stores are shut down for a couple of weeks, not big stores just the little local shops and eateries, and it is nearly impossible to get train tickets or bus tickets anywhere. Good thing there are airplanes and that airlines give discounts for traveling during this time. The travel period is forty days long even though the holiday is only a week long, one of two golden weeks in China. Schools have a five week break, and for about five days most government offices and many businesses shut down. Decorations include lots of red and many other things considered lucky in Chinese culture, which is just about anything for some reason or another, like peaches, fish and lanterns. The festival officially begins on the eve of the lunar New Year and goes until the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the lunar year though most people are back to work before the Lantern Festival. Almost every business and many, many houses have some sort of banner around their door frames. The ones in Hong Kong were orange but most are red. This year is the year of the dragon, so dragons are also a big part of the festivities and decorations. Businesses also leave up many of their Christmas decorations like large trees in front of their stores for festival decorations too. Many places and cities will also put up lantern displays. When I say lanterns I don’t just mean the traditional hanging lanterns but giant, shaped lanterns of various colors. These can be in the shape of anything. Basically, they are pieces of metal welded together to create a 3D cage or frame to cover with fabric letting the lights inside make it all glow at night. I’ll share some pics from the Xi’an lantern festival in a future post. The top image is a large dragon lantern in Hefei. The dragon is probably 300+ meters long. This was taken a couple of weeks before the festival so it isn’t done. It is now covered in CDs for scales like the neck is here. Anyway, a couple of days before the festival, Aaron and I went with a friend to a KTV, karaoke in a private, posh room for only your small group – a great idea that needs to be taken to America. After a few hours of KTV, we went to dinner with them. On New Year’s Eve, we went with our friend, Jamie, and his parents to their big family dinner. There were more than 100 people there from both sides of his family and the meal was like Thanksgiving with way too much food. This is what the festival is all about for most Chinese. It is a time for them to go home and see family. When you ask anyone what they do for the Spring Festival they say they will go home and eat a big
meal with family, and they will mention that dumplings are a part of the festivities. During the festival is also when they traditionally give and receive gifts, usually red envelopes with money, but sometimes actual toys or things. Overall, this is an exciting but very busy time to be in China. I now better understand the whole Chinese New Year thing but only am beginning to understand all of the things that have significance or luck associated with them. Aaron and I spent most of the week traveling. Our stops included Xiâ€™an and the terracotta army, Hong Kong and Macau. Stay tuned for posts detailing those adventures â€“ coming soon. In the mean time, happy New Year, again!
Xi’an – an Ancient City and the Terracotta Army 4 February 2012
Whenever I told people that I was going to Xi’an their first response was “Xi’an is an ancient city,” or something to that effect. I always just imagined it was because the most famous site near Xi’an is the archeological dig of the Terracotta Army and tomb of the first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang, but it is much more than that. Xi’an has an amazing, rich history that includes so much of China’s past including the first dynasties, the most prosperous dynasty, the end stop on the connection between East and West aka the Silk Road, and so much more. While in Xi’an I got a taste of it all. Another off the Bucket List The first destination for Aaron and I was the Terracotta Army just outside of the city. Being on my bucket list, I was super excited. Who wouldn’t be after seeing pictures of this Chinese wonder and hearing stories about it like how each of the 8,000 soldiers is unique. This amazing archeological site was not found until the 1970s even with China’s excellent record-keeping history. Found by a farmer digging a well in his field, it is now one of the most important archeological finds in the world. It is still being excavated and new things are being found. We took a bus from the Xi’an train station, many go, so just look for the ones that say it in English in the parking lot, and after about an hour ride were let out next to the major tourist area in front of the site full of eateries and shops. We got a little lost from here trying to find the entrance because we weren’t let off at the front gate but at the side entrance. After following the masses to the gate, we found out that’s not where the ticket booth is and went back to find it. We got tickets and made our way back to the gate. There is a big park area then another entrance gate through which we found what we had been looking for. There are three buildings with pits that have been excavated and a museum.
Pit 1 is the most impressive and the one all the cool images come from. This is where youâ€™ll see the ranks of terracotta soldiers, all with different faces and hair, standing in order down long ditches where they were buried. Once in, it wasnâ€™t quite as spectacular as I imagined, but it is still impressive. About halfway back in the pit is a current excavation site where archeologists are unearthing and rebuilding the clay figures. To me that made it even more impressive that many of the statues were broken sometime over the last 2,200 years and have been put back together like puzzles. In some of my pictures you can see the seams where soldiers were glued back together. In pits 2 and 3 you will find other figures but not nearly as many as pit 1. These pits include more specialized soldiers like kneeling archers, cavalry and high-ranking officers. However, pit 2 seems much further behind in the excavation process. Next to the pits is another building with a museum telling about how the soldiers were found, why they were buried there and what was found at the nearby site of the first emperorâ€™s tomb including terracotta and bronze figures of people and animals. And in true Chinese fashion, there is an entire exhibit about the museum itself including the construction process, opening ceremonies and visiting dignitaries.
As you leave, don’t forget to visit a shop or two to haggle for your own set of terracotta warriors of all sizes and qualities. Also sold at many shops are your standard Chinese souvenirs like jade. One of the funnier or notso-funny (depends on how much you love dogs) things for sale are the “wolf” pelts that are clearly skins from various large dogs such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Mastiffs, but the shop workers ask if you want a wolf pelt. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one-of-a-kind and worth a visit if in China.
Xi’an, part 2 – A Big Wild Goose 4 February 2012 Big Wild Goose Pagoda
After taking a bus back to town from the warriors, we walked down to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, one of my favorite sights since I’ve been in China. This tower dates back to the Tang Dynasty, considered by many to be China’s most prosperous, and is at the heart of a temple dedicated to a monk who devoted his life to translating the teachings of Buddhism from Sanskrit to Chinese. This temple was also home to many other monks who influenced China’s culture and art over the centuries.
On one side of the temple is a large plaza with dancing fountains. At some point during the day there is a show with the dancing fountains. We thought it would be in the evening, but arrived during it in the middle of the afternoon. There is grand Chinese music blaring from speakers around the plaza and the fountains shooting up 50 feet while moving, pulsating and dancing to the music, way better than the Bellagio fountain show. This performance was on the scale and quality that I imagined Chinese performances would be after seeing the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2008. What was even better was that it was below freezing and they still did it. Some of the surrounding trees had icicles covering them from the spray. After the fountains finished, we went in the temple and up the tower. The temple itself isnâ€™t anything spectacular, being very similar to most Buddhist temples. The tower is most magnificent from the outside or seeing the views from the upper levels. Other than that it isnâ€™t too grand inside, unless you read Chinese and can understand the relics and other things on display. Around the temple are some nice gardens with various prayer spots and at the back is a large area devoted to the story of the monk I mentioned earlier.
There are three halls telling his story through beautiful bas-relief murals. In the middle hall is a large statue of him and some of the works he translated. Donâ€™t worry, the signs here are translated to English so you can understand the significance of the buildings without knowing Chinese, though they did call him a Rabbi several times, which is Hebrew and used to talk about Jewish priests not Buddhist monks. All around this park is a big shopping area with lots of stores and restaurants including many foreign businesses and eateries. There were also many lanterns set up for the New Year with dragons and more.
Bell and Drum Towers
At the heart of Xiâ€™an is the Bell Tower. It was built during the Ming Dynasty about 1,500 years ago and is pretty much the center point of the city. Traditionally the bells were rung to indicate different times of the day and the tower is situated to the east with a drum tower to the west. Inside the bell tower were some exhibits of Chinese art and a stage area for performances that are put on throughout the day. We happened to be there just before one of these and got to see it. It showcases several traditional Chinese instruments including replicas of bells that were unearthed
form the nearby tombs of Chinaâ€™s early emperors. There was also the zither, erhu, and dulcimer. There are also these pieces of stone of different sizes shaped like boomerangs hanging on stands. They were used like a xylophone. It was a well-done performance of four or five songs from a group of musicians dressed in traditional outfits. If you visit the tower, be sure to get there at a time to see the show. Same goes for the Drum Tower and its drum performances. Near the Bell Tower is the Drum Tower, and with our ticket for both, that was our next stop. This tower isnâ€™t as big as the other but it is just as grand. Around the outside are drums of various sizes, some ginormous, with signs describing when they were used. Whereas the bells were used during the day, the drums were used at night to signal different times. The upstairs houses a collection of Chinese furniture and a gift shop while the main floor has an exhibition of drums from around Asia used for many different purposes during different time periods. There is also a stage area for the drum performances in this tower. The songs they performed were very well done and very energetic. It felt like a small scale version of the drum section from the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Xi’an, part 3 – Muslims, Taoists and a City Wall 4 February 2012 Muslim Quarter
Just behind the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an. Over its history, many Muslims have found a home there; I’m sure in part because of the end of the Silk Road. This neighborhood has many shops, restaurants and narrow, winding streets and alleys over cobblestone roads surrounded by centuries-old buildings. Tucked away down one of the side roads is hidden the very unassuming Great Mosque. I expected to see a great big complex with tall minarets and onion domes but instead found a complex with so much Chinese influence that it would be hard to tell it is Muslim and not Buddhist or Taoist except for the absence of statues and incense and instead the presence of Arabic writing and Moorish motifs. Some of the structures are centuries-old and have been or are being restored. The central minaret is actually a short Chinese pagoda.
On our way to the City Wall, we came across a cool old Chinese archway and old looking buildings down a little street. At first I thought it was a market because all I could see down the street were shops selling random things. The end, however, provided me with a nice surprise, the large Taoist temple of Xi’an. The biggest difference I’ve noticed between Chinese Taoist and Buddhist temples are the deities in the various buildings and some of the decorations. Other than that, they aren’t very different in appearances.
This temple had a main hall at the back with the god of the city in it. He was some general back in the day and according to the plaque it is he who basically decides your good fortunes or not, just make sure you’re not wronging him and all will be well. (I’m sure I don’t fully understand Taoism or the significance of the city god, so I’m sorry if I get it wrong. Please post a comment kindly informing me of the correct understanding if you know.)
In the side halls there were other gods and each has places to make offerings of money or fruit or incense. They were of course beautifully decorated with murals, amazing coffered ceilings and more. In the main court of the temple is a large archway, with a cool feature of a giant abacus on it. Just outside this is the large incense burner where people were praying and burning incense. Another observation, on the way in and out people would stop by this one wall that had large carvings of a few Chinese characters and would either rub them or trace them as if they were doing the calligraphy. I’m sure the words were important and rubbing them brings luck or something.
The City Wall
Xi’an is the only Chinese city to have its complete city wall, albeit some of it is a reconstruction to join up the original pieces. The wall is very impressive though and worth a visit. Had it been nicer weather, I probably would have rented a bike to ride around the wall, but it was freezing and there was snow along the path. We went up the west gate and worked our way around to the south where we knew the lantern festival was. By the time we got there, the lights were just turning on and we got to see the beautiful lanterns that are only up for a few weeks and are different each year. We didn’t have a lot of time because we had to get to the airport, but we had enough to walk through them all and experience it without completely freezing. The most impressive lanterns were at the south gate where they had a big display of dragons for the year of the dragon. Further down the wall were lanterns depicting many arts from China, different regions of China and then different parts of the world. However, the Statue of Liberty and a set of big Greek statues were not lanterns just statues. I have many more pictures in my Photobucket album. Please go look at them because my finger nearly froze off taking the pictures.
Hong Kong, again – I love this city! 9 February 2012
After Xi’an we made our way back to Hong Kong via Guangzhou and the Shenzhen border crossing for a reprise of our October adventure. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I really like Hong Kong. It is unlike any other city in the world, and I love it. This trip we saw some of what we saw before (read about my adventures on the Peak Tram and to the Tian Tan Buddha) only this time with the new China Horizons group, but also experienced other adventures that Hong Kong has to offer.
Of course we spent time at the LDS Temple in Hong Kong and had a wonderful time there. It is so wonderful to have a temple at least this near that I’ve been able to visit it a couple of times while in China.
Ping Shan Heritage Trail
One of our first stops was in the area called the New Territories that we read about in Lonely Planet. It is the Ping Shan Heritage Trail taking visitors to a series of sites that were significant to the earliest settling of the Hong Kong area. The sites are all owned by the Tang family and are still used by the descendants of this family. Along the trail is an old brick pagoda, one of the only remaining walled villages in Hong Kong and some ancestral halls and buildings. My favorite building is the library because of the unique architectural features and artistic elements. This walk also takes the visitor through a real neighborhood of Hong Kong that is very different from the well-known Hong Kong Island and Kowloon areas. If you’re in HK for a while and have time this is worth a couple of hours to explore.
I donâ€™t know how last time I was in HK I missed one of the most energetic places in the city, Mong Kok. It is a neighborhood with so many restaurants and shops that you could spend weeks and not visit all of them. Down one street is a big souvenir market and all throughout the area are electronics stores with inexpensive prices and just about anything else you could imagine. We were introduced to the area by a new friend who tried to take us to a cheap Michelin-rated dim sum place but there was a two-hour wait and we were starving so we found something else, some pretty good western food that we canâ€™t find in Hefei. She also introduced us to some great waffles that have peanut butter and honey folded inside. They were delectable! At night this place turns into mostly pedestrian streets with performers and others coming out in droves to take advantage of the hordes going to eat and shop. Overhead are hundreds of signs, many neon, creating awesome layers of advertising and giving a great atmosphere to everything going on around. I went back a few more times while there finding some good Chinese food and a great Turkish restaurant.
Hong Kong, again – Fishing Communities 9 February 2012 Aberdeen
On the back side of Hong Kong Island is the community of Aberdeen. We decided to go after reading there are sampans you can ride. Now, when we read about sampans, we imagined cool looking boats with awesome accordion-like sails that were right out of a movie. Our excitement was met with a harbor full of junks and fishing boats with people pestering us for about half a mile to ride their sampans, which are actually just little sampan-type boats with motors, no sails, and ugly tarp or plastic covers. They take you on a tour up and around the harbor or typhoon shelter to see the boats and the house boat community. In the end, we did not go on a sampan but did see a bit of Aberdeen. The bus we took was a doubledecker so we got to see a bit of the city as we drove. If we had more daylight, we would’ve definitely explored an old cemetery on the hillside in Aberdeen but it wasn’t lit up at night.
Out on Lantau Island is a small fishing community called Tai O. You can get there from many points on the island via their great bus system. We got there from the Ngong Ping area with the big Buddha. Not knowing what to expect and having a disappointing Aberdeen experience, we didn’t have preconceived ideas of what we would see. We were pleasantly surprised and spent much more time than expected there.
Tai O is a traditional fishing village mostly built on stilts over the marshy tidal areas and inlets. Along the narrow streets are dried fish and other sea creatures as well as plenty of live ones for sale. Even with all of that the air wasnâ€™t overtly fishy smelling. As you go through the market area, not very touristy I might add, you see real people doing what they really do day in and out.
Our first adventure in the village was a boat ride in through the community then out to the bay. It was completely worth it to go up in the village as the fishermen actually do. It is a very different perspective from the paths and alleys that you go on by foot. After going up into the village, the boat took us out to the ocean where, I’m guessing mostly in warmer weather, you’re supposed to see dolphins. If we had, then this is easily the best 20 HKD spent. After the boat trip, we meandered up through the village past the shops and restaurants (tried the Tai O Bakery’s pastries and they were yummy) into the narrow paths that made up its streets. This was so cool to see the village from the inside. We wandered up and down little alleys and saw fishermen making nets, old people playing mahjong, fish drying and more. This excursion was definitely worth a visit off the beaten path of Hong Kong’s typical tourist.
Hong Kong, again – The Island 10 February 2012 Botanical Gardens and Zoo
On our last day in Hong Kong, the China Horizons group was headed to the museum, so we decided to go over and explore Hong Kong Island a bit more mainly focusing our adventures on a few specific destinations. First we found our way to the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens and Zoo. This little city park is an oasis in the midst of the skyscraper jungle and is where you can actually see monkeys and other animals from the jungle. The gardens are beautiful with large trees and well-attended beds with all sorts of plants. Scattered around in the gardens are enclosures of several species of birds on one side of the garden and then many mammals on the other side.
One of my favorite places though was the greenhouse because of its beautiful collection of blooming orchids. I also enjoyed watching the gibbons play and chase, and the other animals go about their lives. I know that if I worked in a nearby building I would probably eat lunch in this park one or more times a week.
The next of our destinations was a series of religious buildings, none traditional Chinese, scattered around the area from the last 200 years. We found the Anglican cathedral easily just down the hill from the gardens, but couldn’t go inside at first because of a funeral. It is a simple yet elegant building. The most unique feature I saw is one set of stained-glass windows about fishermen. In the middle was Jesus with his fisher disciples, on one side was a window with British fishermen and on the other Chinese fishermen with their sampans. The next sanctuary we sought out was the synagogue on up on the hill. To get there we passed the mosque and Taoist temple, which we saw last time in Hong Kong, and the Dr. Sun YatSen Museum. When we finally found the synagogue, we crossed the street to go look at it and take a couple pics when we were stopped by a for-hire security guard. He asked us if we wanted to see the synagogue and go in. I said yes, we would love to go in but don’t have an appointment. To this he asked us where we were from then told us pictures weren’t allowed. He didn’t mean inside but from the sidewalk through the fence. We asked why and he simply repeated not allowed and told us to go on our way. I don’t get why we weren’t allowed to take pictures from the street especially when you could from any one of the high-rise buildings around. Oh well, maybe next time I’ll set an appointment ahead of time to visit the inside, not for pictures of the inside, but to see what must be a very special place. The last church we visited was the Catholic cathedral. It is right in the midst of a bunch of tall buildings and only visible from the small gap to get in the parking lot. Built in the 1880s, it is simpler than many Catholic cathedrals I’ve been in but it is still beautiful. I don’t know what it is but I
enjoy visiting various religious buildings and seeing how others pay homage, respect and devotion to God, no matter what faith. I think it strengthens my faith not just in god but also in my fellow sojourners on Earth.
Hong Kong, again – Around the Harbor 27 February 2012 A Little More HK
After the church buildings, we took one of the narrow trolley buses along the island just to ride them. I think they look a bit like the Harry Potter Night Bus. It is a fun way to see this bustling metropolis and really cheap. We got on near Central and off near Wan Chai, an area with a lot of shops and restaurants. From the trolley, we walked to the Expo Center and found “Little China” in Hong Kong. I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but when we got to the Expo Center Aaron and I looked at each other and asked if we were back in the Mainland. It feels like it because this is a beacon attracting all of the Mainland tour groups by the bus load. In front of the Expo Center are two monuments dedicated to the reunification of Hong Kong and China in 1997. One of them is a flower, the same flower on the Hong Kong SAR flag and coins, and was given to HK from Beijing when it all happened 15 years ago. Why did it feel like the Mainland? There were tons of people not concerned about order or the people around them, loudly expectorating, and a bazillion photographers trying to get you to pay to get a picture in front of the statue, just like any big touristy spot in China. It is also the only place I saw in HK with the Chinese flag so prominently displayed. Most places just have the HK SAR flag. We took a Star Ferry from the neighboring pier and ended up at Tsim Sha Tsui in time to eat and get good spots for the light show.
Symphony of Lights
Last time I was in Hong Kong, I missed the Symphony of Lights on Victoria Harbour because I got lost in a mall, not hard to do in HK. This trip to the world’s most vertical city provided two opportunities to see the spectacular. The first time it was a very cloudy night with low-hanging clouds covering the top of the IFC tower. I thought it would make for a cool show enhancing the beams of the lights and lasers. I was wrong. I was very underwhelmed with the show. The second time, however, was much different. The weather was great and the show exciting. I feel like the first time I saw it, they only used half of the lights. After the second time, I would recommend it if you’ve never seen it. It’s really short and could be enjoyed from either side of the harbor, at 8:00 nightly. The biggest disappointment is that the show uses MIDI music files instead of a real symphony recording. It sort of puts a ‘we-don’t-care-thatmuch’ stamp on the production. If it had a real recording, it could be on the scale of a Disney Parks production. The next morning we made our way to the Macau Ferry Terminal for the hour ride to another of China’s Special Administrative Regions. More about that adventure to come soon, until then, go have your own.
Macau – the Vegas of Asia (almost) 28 February 2012
Macau is just as unique from Mainland China as it is from Hong Kong. Many of my students assume it would be just like HK since it was a colony of a European power; however, it is so different. First, a little history, Macau was a Portuguese territory for a few hundred years, nearly twice as long as Hong Kong was British. Because of this history, there was a lot of Catholic influence with many of the first colonizers being monks and missionaries. This history gives Macau its unique culture, from its architecture to the language; everything is a hybrid of Chinese and Portuguese influences. Macau was given back to China in 1999 under very similar conditions to Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region.
Our trip to Macau was just a day long, and, unless you’re planning to do a bit of gambling, that was just enough time. We got to see and experience a lot of the history, see some casinos and not get tired with it, but got just enough to understand it and appreciate it.
The Main Attraction (for me anyway)
Macau’s main historical attraction is a huge UNESCO World Heritage area that includes a few old churches, residences and some very interesting history. The crown jewel is the façade of St. Paul’s cathedral at the top of a hill. The best way to reach this is through Senado Square and the winding streets lined with old European architecture. It is a beautiful place with a great mix of China and Europe. It shows how people with such diverse cultures and beliefs could live and work together with respect for each other. One great example of this is the small Chinese temple with incense burning right next to the ruins of the cathedral. At the top of the hill next to the cathedral ruins is the old Monte Fort that now houses the Macau Museum. The museum is all about this merger and blending of two completely different cultures. It gave a great perspective on everything we were seeing.
Macau is made up of two areas, a peninsula and the island of Taipa, both pretty small and right across a small harbor to the mainland either connected directly or by bridge. The peninsula is the more developed part of the region with a lot of the history and original casinos. The island is where the airport is and the new development of mega-resort casinos. It is also home to some small fishing villages that seem untouched from the casino environment. We took a bus to the far end of the island to the small village of Coloane. This small village showcases a similar mix of Chinese and Portuguese influences with both a small Catholic church and a Taoist temple. The architecture throughout the village also shows this with blends of Asian and European motifs, colors and elements. On the top of the biggest hill of Taipa is a large and colorful temple dedicated to A-Ma, goddess of the sea. We went up on a free bus that takes you from a parking lot at the bottom of the hill, right next to the main road with public bus stops, up to the temple. Also on the island are some other sights we didn’t get to see but if I went back I may, including the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion.
No trip to Macau is complete without at least going into a couple of casinos, just like Vegas. Now, some say that Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia, but I donâ€™t think it is quite there yet. Right now it is Reno. However, in a year or two when many of the ginormous mega-resorts are completed on the island, it may be better than Vegas. On the peninsula is where a lot of the older casinos and their new incarnations are. These mostly focus on gambling not the entire entertainment package, hence Reno and not Vegas. These casinos are mostly owned by one man who had a monopoly in the Macau market until a few years back. Thatâ€™s when some of the big chains started moving in. The old ones include the Lisboa and the Grand Lisboa, both icons for Macau casinos. Some of the newer ones include the Wynn and Sands. Out on Taipa is a new development where Vegas-style mega-resort casinos are popping up, the most recognizable and seemingly the favorite being The Venetian. This is the area that feels like a strip of sorts is growing with more consideration for shopping, eating, entertainment with gambling. Before we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch a boat to Shenzhen, we wandered The Venetian and had dinner in the food court. It is beautiful inside with the full ceiling frescos and rich architectural elements and has the signature canal. Biggest difference was the Chinese girl gondoliers with Italian names. If you ever make it to Macau, be sure to take advantage of the free things like free bag check at many casinos and free shuttle buses from many casinos to others and to the airport and ferry terminal. It is also easy to get to, both from the Mainland and Hong Kong. I enjoyed the day in Macau and may find myself back in the future. However, it can never compare with Hong Kong.
Shanghai – A Love / Hate Relationship, part 1 5 March 2012
Over the past six months of living in China, I’ve been repeatedly asked where I’ve been and what I liked the best. Being only a few hours from Shanghai by train, many people were surprised that I hadn’t been yet. They also all gave me their opinions of Shanghai all seemingly very high or low opinions; they either love it or hate it. When I imagined Shanghai, I saw beautiful old European architecture mixed with traditional Chinese buildings and new modern skyscrapers overshadowing all of it. I’ve seen Shanghai in movies and was excited to see the “Paris of the East.” That isn’t what I found though. Now that I have been, I have my own opinion that’s more of a middle ground. I don’t really love it but I don’t really hate it – I just didn’t feel it. If you love traveling, you’ll understand. Every place you visit has a feeling that gives the place an identity. That feeling is made up of the energy, the culture, the history, the surroundings and the people. When I visited Xi’an or Yangshuo or Hong Kong, I felt it. Shanghai just felt forced to me. It didn’t seem natural. China has done a great deal to not recognize the past of the city that makes it so unique and helped it develop into what it is today. That past and culture seems to be covered up and replaced with something forced specifically designed for visitors. All this said, my short trip to Shanghai had its highlights. In fact, I fell in love in Shanghai, but more about that later.
The most iconic strip of property in Shanghai is the Bund. No, I don’t know where the name came from. It is right on the river and home to a row of European art deco and classical revival early twentieth-century skyscrapers. These housed various European banks, businesses and government entities while England and France partially occupied the area. Now these buildings house Chinese financial institutions and high-end retail and offices. Although this is the heart of why Shanghai became the city it is today, that history seems to be ignored. One of the biggest problems I had were the aluminum flag poles put on the roof of each historic building to fly the Chinese flag. None of the flag poles are originals to the buildings and don’t really go with the architecture, but, as if someone were claiming territory after a battle, there is a bright red flag on each building. The Bund also has the best view of Pudong, the new business district across the river with the iconic Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center. It is best viewed from the raised pathway right on the river. From there you can also walk up and down the Bund getting a great view of each building.
One of our first stops in Shanghai was the Urban Planning Exhibition Center in People’s Square. I wanted to visit this museum because I expected to see the future of Shanghai with amazing architectural renderings and models. That’s what I read about and really wanted to see, and that would have been the case had I visited Shanghai five or ten years ago.
Now the museum just shows you stuff that’s already there, except the new tallest building that’s under-construction. There is a bit of history there as well that shows what things used to look like. It is fascinating how this city was practically nothing except the remnants of the European concessions and farms about 30 years ago and now it is one of the biggest cities in the world and one of the world’s financial hubs. The coolest part of the museum has to be the large small-scale model of most of the city on the third floor. Also on that floor was a 360 degree projector presentation that takes the visitor on a virtual tour of the city with nine projectors making you feel like you’re in the middle of it, so much so that I got a little wobbly when I went out of it. That’s all we saw this time round at People’s Square but maybe I’ll see more another time. It is not far from the Bund and easily reached via East Nanjing Road that is mostly a walking street with tons of shopping.
Shanghai – A Love / Hate Relationship, part 2 5 March 2012 Pudong
As the sun lowered on the horizon, we headed to Pudong, to the business district across the river from the Bund. This is home to the most iconic structure of modern Shanghai – the Pearl Tower and many other skyscrapers including the three used in Mission Impossible 3 and the beautiful Shanghai World Financial Center. When I did my lesson on the wonders of China and let my students choose what they are, the Shanghai World Financial Center was on the list to choose from because it is one of the tallest buildings in the world. At the time I joked that it looked like a giant bottle opener. However, when the sun goes down and the lights come on, it is a very striking building and I immediately fell in love. The way they use the lights to accentuate the architecture is perfect.
Of course I had to go to the top where the second highest observation deck in the world hangs underneath the top cross bar. The views at night were okay but unfortunately marred by the super-dirty windows. It was hard to get a good picture out of them because of the reflection on the dirt and grime. After the SWFC, we walked over to the Pearl Tower. To get there we went over a pedestrian bridge by the IFC mall. From the bridge you can get a great view for pics of both the SWFC and the tower. It will be interesting to see the skyline change with the new building going up next to the SWFC. It will be taller and have a funky roof. Unfortunately, it will block the view of the financial center from parts of the Bund.
World Expo Site
I don’t know why, but big world events like the Olympics and world fairs greatly interest me, so naturally I wanted to visit the site of the 2012 Shanghai World Expo. I knew that most of the pavilions had been made for temporary use to be deconstructed after the event, but I didn’t know that two years later there wouldn’t be much left except barren lots, construction fences and rusty leftovers. One would think that an event they were so proud of, promoted like crazy all over the country with signs and insignia still up two years later, that it would be better taken care of for the still tons of visitors who want to visit. There are a few pavilions still standing and in use including the China Pavilion, some large exhibition halls and the Saudi Pavilion affectionately nicknamed the Moon Boat.
That was the only open building to visit across the whole former expo park. Supposedly, they use the other remaining pavilions for special events, which means no one of the general public will probably ever go in them again. The large arena now dons the name of Mercedes-Benz and I think they play basketball in it. There’s also an ice rink in the basement for prospective skaters. Although the Moon Boat is the only pavilion left to go through like during the expo, it is worth it. Saudi Arabia did an excellent job showcasing their country. The highlight was a journey through the country on a conveyor belt walkway that takes visitors through projected presentations all about their rich culture and industry. The highlight of this is a section where the walkway turns into a bridge and moves through a room with images being projected all around you. On the roof is a “Bedouin” oasis camp complete with large tent, great music and fake palm trees. I would’ve hated waiting in line for this or any of the pavilions since the maze for lines looks like it was designed for thousands of people at a time. I can’t say how long this pavilion will be open or how long it will be in good shape since it seems to already be falling into disrepair in the hands of its Chinese caretakers. However, in the future there could be a nice park area at the expo park since they were definitely working on something behind one of the fences.
The highly over-rated tourist market was the most forced of all in Shanghai. It was crowded and didn’t really have that great of selection or prices for markets in China. Beijing, Yangshuo and Nanjing have much better markets.
They try to make it look all Chinese with these big, traditional-looking buildings, but it’s all fake or at least feels that way.
Tea Party and Massages
Both funny and annoying are the many people throughout the city who came up trying to be all nice, speaking very good English who only wanted to scam us or sell to us. After the first few, we started getting straight to the point and they ran away as soon as we mentioned tea. I think about six different groups approached us about tea. Massages on the other hand were being hawked left and right. Anyone with logic knows right away what they’re really selling when they throw in that it is with a beautiful woman. It wasn’t until the last one of these approaches on Saturday night that someone was straight with us and blurted out “for sex!” as we walked away. I know I’ll be back in Shanghai at least once before I leave China, after all my flight goes out of there, but I’m not sure if I’ll get there before then. As I said before, I didn’t feel it. Maybe if I were living there or had more time and money to spend there it would be different, but as a guest it wasn’t for me. Oh well, until next time, remember “Adventure is out there,” so go and have one.
Miniature Anhui – diminutive buildings, magnified issues 29 March 2012
I’ve passed it on the bus dozens of times, and I mean baker’s dozens not regular dozens. The front entrance is marked by five towers shaped like lotus stems and pods. Behind the fences I could see oldstyle buildings, and from what I read online, they were replicas of historical and cultural sites throughout Anhui Province. I had been told to not visit and also that I should take the fieldtrip. I finally did it. This week, after two previously foiled attempts over the last couple of weeks (once because of the droves of school buses out front that scared me away and the other because it had closed for the day), Aaron and I made our way to the Hui Garden or Hui Yuan. Located not far from my school, across the street from the aquarium, Hefei’s amusement park and the convention center, Hui Yuan is basically a “world’s fair” for Anhui Province. The park is divided into many sections, each representing a different region of the province and what can be found there. Fortunately, there were some English signs so we knew what we were looking at. Each area had a pavilion like you would find at a world expo highlighting that region some including replicas of local attractions. Most of the pavilion-like buildings had collections of arts and crafts from their region and told some of the history, not translated to English. However, most of these buildings looked like they hadn’t really been touched or improved upon or anything since first opened. Some looked more like gift shops and basically were. The most disappointing thing for me was the apparent disinterest with the presentation and sharing the culture and history that has made the province. After
all, that is why they built this park, but it doesn’t help when they don’t even turn on the lights in the galleries or turn on the water features. They simply don’t seem to care and make no effort to attempt caring. Even though there weren’t as many school buses as the week before, there were still hordes of school kids roaming the park in their matching jackets, hats or bandanas. When they saw us many began yelling “hello” or “MeiGuoRen” (American) or “YingGuo” (England). We tried to steer clear of the masses since they wanted to point, shout and mob. Usually, when they would yell American, Aaron would yell back ZhongGuoRen or Chinese person. Tangent: China is a dirty place when it comes to litter. Everyone seems to just drop their trash on the ground no matter where they are. This is the case all over, the city, small towns and the countryside. It really is quite despicable to see someone drop their rubbish on the ground when there is a waste basket two feet behind them. You may wonder when this behavior begins. Well, as I witnessed at Hui Yuan, it starts at an early age. We were there at lunch time and saw the aftermath of the fieldtrip lunch time. I didn’t get a picture but did get a video so hopefully I can post that soon. I have other very clear examples but maybe that will be another post. It varies a bit by city. Certainly, bigger cities appear to be cleaner, but there are still areas there where the litter lines the streets and gardens. So far the cleanest city I’ve visited is Nanjing. Anyway, back to the park. After meandering round and about the park, through the swarms of younglings and passing oxymoronic images (signs that say “no paddling” next to paddle boats,” visit my Photobucket album of Chinese signs to see it), we left the park. After seeing the poorly cared for reconstructions I found a desire to go find some of the originals. I hope to make the trips soon. The last building we visited is the planning hall, meaning the plans and future of Hefei. Well, maybe when it was built but has since become historic. The model was extremely rudimentary especially compared with the model in Shanghai and super out-dated. I’ve only been here
a matter of months and I can point out inaccuracy after inaccuracy. I guess it’s hard to keep up when you are constantly building, but as far as I understand it, it is all centrally planned so they knew about it and could have included it in the model. The Anhui Province pavilion from the 2010 Shanghai World Expo that I wrote about in December is technically a part of the park, but a separate admission is required for it. It took just a couple of hours, 20 RMB and lots of patience of being stared, pointed and shouted at, but now I can say I’ve been there. After all, there are only a handful of things to see in Hefei so I better do as many as possible while I’m here. And, I now know what lies beyond the towering lotus pods.
Hongcun – The village of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 5 April 2012
Surrounded by fields that this time of year are bright yellow from the canola flowers lies the ancient city of Hongcun, our first adventure for the Tomb Sweeping Day vacation. With Aaron, Melissa, Fernanda (Spanish teacher here at AHU), and Oasis and Isa, two Chinese friends, I experienced the most famous region in Anhui Province with Huangshan or the Yellow Mountains and two ancient villages that make up an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hongcun may be familiar to people because it is also one of the locations where Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was filmed. The village dates back to the Ming dynasty with some buildings still standing from that time, most of them seemed to be from the Qing dynasty though and only America-old and not China-old. Home to extremely successful Hui businessmen, the influence of Hongcun and other ancient Anhui villages can be seen throughout the country in the architecture. The southern part of Anhui or the state of Hui as it was called before Anhui was formed was the home for a very successful business culture, that’s where it gets the second part of its name. This could be confusing though since the Muslim minority group of western China is called the Hui people.
Anyway, the ancient part of the village is designed very traditionally with a hill at the back and water at the front with a central water feature and building that everything seems to be built around. Supposedly, if you look down on the village you’ll see the shape of an ox. We strolled through the village where the streets are more like sidewalks, only a few feet wide. Along the way we saw many artists trying to capture the essence of ancient or not-so-ancient China. There are also streams of running water meandering through the village next to the alleyways used for washing food and clothes. At the outskirts of the village we found the swaths of yellow fields covering the valley all around. At the back of the village we climbed the forested hill with tea terraces up the side. Up there, the bugs were singing and for a moment, in between car horns and truck noises from the highway below, you could imagine you were in the middle of nature. We also found our way into the traditional houses from days gone by and saw the beautiful carpentry and wood carvings. The center of the village is a half-circle pond surrounded by buildings with an ancient clan hall at the head of it. This is a beautiful scene, which I’m sure would be even better with fewer people.
The visit to Hongcun wasnâ€™t without annoyance though with terrible traffic on the two-lane highway in and out of the little village. With the great sea of yellow flowers and also small orchards of blooming fruit trees, many people parked in the road to get out and take pictures. This left little more than one lane for all other traffic including the hordes of tour buses to go both directions and it led to weaving with cars parked on both sides along the way. On the way in and the way out we got stuck in terrible traffic. We didnâ€™t end up with time to visit Xidi, the other, older ancient village also part of the UNESCO site. The next day we did make it to Huangshan, but more about that in the next post.
It was the best of China; it was the worst of China 6 April 2012
After Hongcun we went to Tangkou, the small town just outside of Huangshan, a Chinese national park. The travel people we worked with (a professor Melissa taught last semester) had booked our hotel and everything should have been fine. However, when we arrived, the hotel told us they were not licensed to accommodate foreigners. This started the avalanche that just about broke the camel herd’s backs, us being the camels. Eventually, after a couple of hours, several calls to the professor and his people, and discussions with other hotels, we were told it would work out and we took our stuff to the rooms. As we went out to find food, we got a call from the hotel, telling us to come back, get our stuff and go somewhere else. I guess the police told them directly that they couldn’t take us in. Not only was this annoying and a rather stupid policy, but it meant more money than budgeted for beds that night. We ended up going to the other end of town to a pretty nice hotel with the most comfy bed I’ve slept on in China, which ended up being a blessing and the calm before the storm. We figured that the next day would make up for any inconveniences with the hotels. We woke up early, but not as early as I had encouraged, to start out for the mountain. Outside our hotel we saw the mountain and had a good feeling about the day. This quickly went away and frustration, anger and a yearning for home (I started singing America the Beautiful to myself at one point) quickly built up inside after we reached the front gate of Huangshan. At 7:00 a.m. there was already a swarm of people and tour groups at the entrance. It wasn’t the typical horde you find in China, but this was the worst experience I’ve had here and one of the worst experiences of my life. I’m actually getting angry again as I write this. After getting our tickets, we moved into the bazillion people heading for the bus terminal to go into the park. The number of people wasn’t the problem, but the way the number of people moved and had absolutely no concern for anybody else around them. There was no order, no crowd control and no respect! After thinking about how to describe it, I thought that it was like being in a bag of gummy bears left in the car on a hot summer day when they all stick together and it is impossible to separate them and eat them as individuals. It was so bad that I wasn’t moving of my own accord but being pushed and pulled as something adrift in the ocean. The pressure being pushed on each of us from every direction was insane and I hope I never experience anything like that ever again. Unfortunately, that was just the first two hours of our day.
Aaron and I made it through the crowd first, but waited a while as the others eventually squeezed through. We took the bus from there to the Mercy Light Cable Car Station, the shorter line at the bus depot. At the cable car station it didn’t look so bad to get our tickets or wait for the gondola, but once again we were wrong.
The line didn’t extend to the sign saying the station was 200 meters upstream so we thought it wouldn’t be that bad. How mistaken we were can’t be described with mere words. This line was just as bad as the other except it was going up stairs and people were constantly trying to cut. However, saying this was a line isn’t that accurate. It was more of a mass of people funneled into a space only 10 feet across going the same direction. This line took us four hours to get through. After waiting in it, I would have preferred hiking up the mountain and being sore, tired and bruised from the millions of stairs than waiting in that mosh pit. Eventually, we got in the cable car and whisked up the mountain in a matter of minutes surrounded by some amazing scenery. On the mountain there were tons of people. It wasn’t like visiting a national park in any other place I’ve done it. I was actually waiting in lines while hiking. It was insane. The scenery did make up a bit for that. It was amazing! If you’ve ever seen a traditional Chinese painting, it was probably of Huangshan or at least it included mountains like it or the ancient pines that cling to the sheer cliff faces. The first destination on the mountain was the Welcoming Guest Pine. This is probably the most famous individual tree in the world. Why? Because it supposedly looks like a hand welcoming visitors. After this we made our way to Lotus Peak, the highest point in the area and I think in the province. It was a good hike up stairs carved out of the mountain and bridges spanning crevasses between rock formations. It reminded me a bit of the upper part of the hike for Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. From the top you could see for miles around. You could see the park and its amazing mountains and the layers of mountains and hills disappearing into the haze on the horizon. If only there had been less people on top then it would have been in the top five of my favorite moments in China, but alas there were entire tour groups trailing up the stairs and congregating on top.
Also at the top are locks put there by couples to symbolize their love. They take a lock engraved with their names and put it on a chain that weaves around the railing on the peak. Oh, and if you forgot, there is a vendor up there you can buy one from who also has the means to engrave it on the spot. He also does gold medals that you can buy for yourself because you made it up, seems just a little narcissistic if you ask me (the medal thing). The original plan was to do a lot of hiking and eventually hike down, but because of our six hours in lines that morning, we didn’t have enough daylight or energy to continue. Instead, we went back to the tree where amazingly there were only a couple dozen people as opposed to the thousands earlier. We decided on the cable car down because of the time more than anything and ended up waiting another three hours in line to go down. I will always remember that day and not fondly. As wonderful and amazing as the natural surroundings are, I’m still not convinced they were worth the rise in blood pressure, the wasted time and the further disillusionment with the Chinese way of doing things. Someday I hope to go back, when I have more money (it is the most expensive tourist site in the country), more time and on a day that isn’t associated with any kind of holiday. Then I will stay on the mountain and have time to hike all of the trails and stairs through the wonderland of granite, contorted pines and clouds.
Huangshan City a.k.a. Tunxi 7 April 2012
After descending the mountain we made the hour-long drive to Huangshan City, the biggest city of the region. It is also the transportation hub for the area with both train station and airport for people wanting to get to the Yellow Mountains. With no hotel problems like the night before, we checked in and found some dinner. That night I think we all slept quite soundly except for the random call around midnight offering “additional services.” The next morning we ventured to the nearby ancient street that is now basically the tourist nucleus of Huangshan City. It is a long narrow street with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants all in cool looking old buildings. It doesn’t quite match up to West Street in Yangshuo and about fifty percent of the shops are calligraphy supplies, mostly ink stones. The other downside to this market was the vendors who didn’t seem to want to haggle with us as much as in other places. I still think the best market in the country is in Nanjing. I did find a shop with some of the coolest Chinese-style paintings I’ve seen, done with a modern twist. I couldn’t afford anything other than a couple of catalogs of his work. Although I wasn’t enchanted by the market or hotel in Tunxi, I really liked the city. It is one of those cities I just felt comfortable in. I felt it wasn’t too big or too small and didn’t feel fake. I even said to myself that I could live there. This city is about equidistant from both Hefei and Nanjing which is why most visitors to Huangshan come directly from Nanjing or Shanghai and miss Anhui’s capitol all together. The trip came to an end with the drive home to Hefei. Overall, it was a good trip mostly because of the people I was with. I had some great experiences and some terrible ones I hope never to repeat. I can’t wait for my next adventure. Until then, hope you have fun on your own adventures.
No need for NCAA in China 19 April 2012
In China, schools don’t compete against each other in athletic competitions. They do compete in language, debate and other scholarly competitions, but there is no NCAA equivalent in the Orient. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t play sports. Instead, each college or high school or middle school or primary school for that matter, no matter how large or small, will hold an annual school-wide sports meeting. At Anhui University, the annual sports meet is like a campus Olympic Games with department competing against department, and it kicked off Thursday morning with a full-fledged opening ceremony. I decided to stay here, instead of traveling over the days of competition like many of the foreign teachers, so I could get glimpses of the events and try to save a little money for my big travel plans in June. Anyway, I’m a sucker for pageantry and love large-scale productions. It’s always been a dream to attend or help with the opening ceremonies for the actual Olympics. The ceremony began with a parade around the track with each department’s team and, unlike the Olympics, a contingent of cheerleaders leading the way. Each team had its own style. One group goose-stepped like it was in a military march while the Art Department team was led by stilt walkers in minority group costumes and the athletes wore the classic Chinese black suit with white shirt (all other teams had matching track suits and I don’t mean traditional outfit when I say suit but a normal suit more befitting a businessman, if you’ve been to China you understand what I mean). After the teams were presented in this procession and gathered on the field, there was a flag ceremony with the national anthem. There were a few speeches from dignitaries and a pledge from the student volunteer officials that they would be fair and accurate. Then came the performance involving at least a thousand students who have been practicing for about six weeks for this moment. There were traditional dances with fabric and fans, the fans being particularly cool to watch. There was also a group of students doing a nun chuck routine and a few hundred girls with mini drums on their waists.
My favorite section was the dragon and lion dance. It was also the favorite of many of my students I was watching with. The lions are just fun to watch, and I’ve never seen Chinese dragons used to create words. Throughout the performance, the lions sat on the track in front of the field acting like big dogs watching the show. Did you know? There are two people in the Chinese lion costumes. The back person is almost always bent over and acts as support for the front when they do their acrobatic moves. The front person controls the eyes and mouth that can open and shut and the back person can make the tail wiggle. When sitting, the rear end can’t really see a thing and is most likely lying down or bent in half. This is probably the world’s first version of Muppets. The most out-of-place section was a Latin dance segment with tons of couples dancing on the field. I asked some of my students if Chinese people really like Latin music and dancing. They said they didn’t get it either. The performance came to an abrupt, very anti-climactic end. There was no big finale or anything of the like. It just ended. And, surprisingly, there were no fireworks at all. Seems very un-Chinese without fireworks. Soon after that the sporting events began. I left, but my students stayed to watch, being freshmen they’re required to. Maybe I’ll go and check out some of the competitions over the next couple of days. It may be interesting to see students with no muscle or athletic skill or talent do the long jump or run 800 meters just because their department needed someone to compete in the event. This is the biggest school event of the year. Maybe someday China will have intercollegiate sports, but that would bring competition and rivalry, which doesn’t fall in line with a “harmonious” society, so it will probably remain the same as it is. Even if they do get an NCAA thing going, I hope they don’t do away with the sports meeting. I enjoyed watching the ceremony and got a little teary eyed and my heart swollen in happiness or pride or something for some reason I don’t know. I just love big events like this when people come together for a common purpose that is good. This just made my desire to attend the real Olympic Opening Ceremonies even stronger. By the way, there’s less than 100 days until the London Games! Until then, this will have to do.
The “Only” Tourist Destination in Hefei, not really 23 April 2012
When I arrived in China eight months ago, I asked just about anyone who spoke English what there is to do and see in Hefei. Most everyone mentioned the same place, Lord Bao Park or Baohe. In fact it’s the only real attraction listed in Lonely Planet for Hefei besides a Buddhist temple and an old replica house. I’ve been to the temple and passed the residence numerous times. Finally, after eight months I made the trip to pay my respects at Lord Bao’s tomb and memorial temple.
First, who was Lord Bao?
Lord Bao the Just was a government official and magistrate from the Northern Song Dynasty nearly 1,000 years ago. He is held in high regard by the Chinese people for fighting corruption and being just. There have been numerous operas and other stories created about him for several centuries. In my opinion though, he wasn’t the greatest of men. According to the stories I have read, he had absolute power to punish or execute anybody without receiving consent from the emperor or anyone else. He censored people for corruption and speaking against the government but didn’t get punished when he spoke out against the government. He basically took the law and people’s lives and deaths into his own hands. He may have been a great man. I for sure haven’t read all there is to know about him. In fact, most of the information available about him is in heroic legend not volumes of history. It is possible that over the centuries he morphed into what the people or his favorite admirers the peasants wanted him to be and not what he really was. When I heard about him being hailed as a just person, I didn’t expect such a skewed sense of Justice. Lord Bao was born in Hefei in 999 A.D. He served in the government all over, in both the capitol and provincial positions until he died. When he died his body was brought back to Hefei for burial.
The Park is broken into a couple of admission areas surrounded by green space and part of the city moat. The most important part of the park, because it wouldn’t be anything without it, is the family tomb area. Lord Bao and his family are buried there in multiple tomb mounds. There is a spirit walk with stone guardians that leads to the tomb similar to imperial tombs of the past although much smaller and less grand. Along the paths are several steles describing his accomplishments in Chinese. One of the most interesting spots is the replica coffin chamber with this cool tunnel leading to it. It is underground right next
to the actual grave but this one is a replica, according to the sign, with a room at the end with a replica coffin like his.
The other main fee area of the park is a memorial temple, which is really just a pagoda with a couple of auxiliary buildings. Built in 1999 to celebrate his 1,000th birthday, it isn’t really ancient and is used to highlight Anhui just as much as Lord Bao. Up the tower are several forms of art representative of the province and highlighting Lord Bao. At the top visitors can go out and walk around the balcony with great views, if a clear day, of the thriving city of Hefei. One side building has a carved wood relief of Lord Bao Park while the second building was closed when I visited. All around the fee areas are some very nice green spaces with the city moat to one side with graceful arched Chinese bridges and lovely walkways among the beautiful green trees. This peaceful scene is punctuated with plastic paddle boats like those found in water ways all over China. There is a tea house on one island and some kind of museum on the other. For being the “only” thing to see in Hefei, it is pretty small and more of just a memorial to someone the Chinese culture idolizes. Most signs have English translations. It is a AAAA national tourist destination and a 50 RMB ticket gets you into both the tomb and tower. Until next time, remember adventure is out there, so go have one!
Act 3 of my time teaching at Anhui University in Hefei, China from August 2011 to June 2012. This section covers adventures over the Chinese...
Published on Mar 12, 2014
Act 3 of my time teaching at Anhui University in Hefei, China from August 2011 to June 2012. This section covers adventures over the Chinese...